By Chris Onuoha
Osasuwa Asemota is the Chief Executive Officer of HustleSquare Company Limited, a new technology based service provider with focus on artisans.
He is also a co-founder comprising two others – Steve Asemota and Tshela Boyo who are based in Canada.
Osa Asemota who has been in the oil and gas sector for over fifteen years developed this idea alongside his partners to create a new lease of life for low class skilled workers in the country. In this chat with WW, he shares among other things how Hustlesquare has changed the narrative of potential skilled job seekers’ perception.
From the onset
While I initiated the vision, the other two keyed in and fast tracked the creation of the App that is known today as ‘Hustlesquare”.
Could you narrate how and why the idea came to you in the first place and why it is basically directed to artisans?
You know necessity they say gives birth to invention. The idea of the app came about when one day, I was searching for a barber to make my hair. My regular barber was not reachable then and I have to drive around my estate to search for an alternative barber to do so. While moving around on the road, something came to my mind like ‘why can’t I sit in my house and get a good barber, why do I have to waster man hour searching for a service when I have my phone and gadgets to make contact.’
The though start echoing into my head. I took up my phone, call Steve, one of the co-founders and disclosed what I am thinking at that moment. He caught the idea and extended it to Tshela and that’s how the whole vision started. We had a conference call and discussed how to create the App that will handle the services. They all saw that it was a very good idea and they all keyed into the vision.
Having been in the oil and gas sector for about 14 years now, it is quite an experience to start up something else. I am bringing my vast experience and relationship management in the sector to the new platform. Our target is to cover the whole of Nigeria and to move into other African countries before 2021. The office in Canada and US is currently going under paper work after which it will be launched soon.
It all started in October 2016 and after that, we went into action, developed the App with one of the best App developers in Canada. First release of the App came out in the middle of 2017 after that we reviewed and corrected some loopholes and made the final release in the last quarter of 2018. It was a long journey to arrive at something unique because we wanted the best. A lot of fund was committed to it and that is the story of what we have today as Hustlesquare.
Beside the necessity narrative, is it what you observed abroad where you have lived, that you want to replicate or is it just an imagination that became a reality?
Funny enough, like they say, the idea you are thinking about, one and a billion people are already thinking about it before you.
Similar services like this exist in the Western world; like in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and other part of the world but it was not as dynamic as what we have set out to do in Nigeria. I didn’t really pick the idea from them. Like I said, necessities induce and inspired it. I wouldn’t say other part of the world is not using this kind of app but it is a different kind of idea compared to ours.
The project is almost like empowerment because the industries we are working with are purely artisan service providers, and if you look at that sector in Nigeria, government doesn’t have a full data of that sector. And to be honest with you, that is the most vibrant sector in our economy.
We might look at them as common artisans; we engage them in a job, pay them, say a thousand naira for such services. We may not know that such amount goes a long way and means a lot to the country’s economy because while you pay for that service at one spot, millions of people are also paying such amount at different spot in the country simultaneously. No one is taking the data of such services which is handier than an organized service in the corporate world.
It is a huge initiative meant to empower the masses. Most of these people especially the youths are trained skilled workers who do not know how to reach their customers. This is also what forms the App. It is an application through which skilled workers can easily be reached without hindrance. They don’t need to have capitals to set up their own shop, or office.
Looking at the app and its development, it is interesting to note as you mentioned that there are no data to prove how much money or services are expended or rendered in the country on hourly bases by artisans. Then, in your App, did you create a unit that will record this data probably to be used by any government agency for record purposes?
Yes, for us it is all about gathering data. We are building data with a secured network that cannot be destroyed and can also be a referral for such purposes in the next 30 years from now, for both public and private. For now, we are just starting and putting the data together. We are also working with vocational schools, private and government agencies that have these artisans in their fold. Those data are placed in a secured server for use. Once the government is ready or any organization that requires such data for economic value chain, they will approach us.
There is a huge tax loss to the government stemming from this non-existence of data in the private sector. Did you factor in such lapses to perhaps, help government to recoup taxes accruing from these sector?
Yes, for us, we are not tax drivers. We are actually services providers but we have one of the indices, or elements that drive the taxes. That is the data like you rightly said. That data is now left for the government, when the time comes, to approach us and ask for such data to drive their taxes. Not just for driving for taxes alone but for improvement and empowerment of the youths in the country. A lot of empowerment programmes are been carried out by the government but they are not targeted at the right people. They just do empowerment for social and political reasons. What we have done is to bridge the gap for government and the artisans. When the government requires an empowerment for the youths they can approach us and tell us who they want to reach out for. We can easily give them those data. Through that, they can also create tax remittance while they are working.
Let’s get to know more about the app and how it works?
The app is a revolutionary tool for artisan services and skilled workers. It is more like sitting in your house and needing maybe a barber and clicking on your phone. The app will direct you on the artisan’s location, then you click and request for a service.
Category of skilled workers on our platform are plumbers, bricklayers, barbers, carpenters, electricians, make-up artists, lesson teachers (private), hairdressers, cobblers, tailors and so on. It is for everyone that has special skill to sale. For example, when you have a wedding and your make-up artists or your barber is not available or probably stuck on traffic, a click on app will enable you see other service providers near to you. What we have done is basically to make life easier for people. The app gives you an option to select whichever service you need at a particular time.
Do your services include drivers?
We don’t provide drivers. Ours is basically for skilled artisans, including educational tutors that can handle private lessons. This is also good for people who are already in a job and wants to do something extra. When you download the app and get registered, you will be approached for services. After your regular job that ends maybe, 5.pm, you can switch on your app to receive service request from clients. And this can be carried on till 10 pm. We are not engaging drivers because their kind of services already exists. We are not also engaging baby-sitters and related duties like that. Our focus is on skilled people.
In this kind of service, there will be competitors. How do you handle such challenge?
We started the whole idea since 2016 and it took us almost two years to get it running. We have put a lot into the application. Competition is not a challenge to us because we created unique operational schemes that will outclass any competitor. Moreover, our App was developed in Canada by some experts. We didn’t just start by asking artisans to log into it because customer’s security is very important to us. We worked with some government agencies that are already training skilled men. We ask them to identify and verify these artisans and after that, we onboard them into the app to start working with us. We do extra security check. That’s what most of our competitors do not do and that keeps us ahead of others. We don’t send unverified artisans out to work. We make sure that their identity, integrity and background check are intact and approved.
Security is our top priority in this industry. Although, there’s a saying that you might not know what is in a man’s heart, but the best we do is an extra security check on both the customers and the artisans on our platform. We have a regular security line manned by our chief security officer (CSO) in the office. He is always on point to treat any matter from both a customer and an artisan. If any life is threatened while at work, the CSO will immediately relate with the nearest Police officer within the area for immediate action.
Besides, we do a special ethical training, safety and customer relations training including environmental management and financial training and others for the artisans before we set them out to work. Our coverage areas for now are within Lagos cities. We intend to cover the entire Lagos state after which we move to Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Owerri, Benin and other parts of Nigeria cities. We are currently doing a documentation to start off the business in Canada and United States and this will be handled by our partners who reside in these countries.
How is payment made between the customer and artisan?
For the mode of payment, currently, a customer pays an artisan direct. We want the artisans and the customers to get used to the app first, then other means like a payment gateway app will be introduced to handle efficient payment method with a minimal percent deducted by the app for running cost. There is also a monthly subscription fee of N5.000 by the artisans while in the company services. This covers a monthly period that gives an artisan the full opportunity to use the app and reach as many customers as possible.
With regards to the low educational background of some of the artisans in terms of handling the technology involved in the use of the apps, how do you handle their shortcomings?
Actually, we do have few challenges in that area, but mind you that these artisans are smart equally. Operating the application is very easy. In less than 10 minutes, the app is operated and like you know, everyone uses an Android phone this days and operating the app is not difficult. The issue here is that government have not taken this particular set of people serious based on their low academic background thereby losing huge income that moves around them. For instance, my gateman has an Android phone and he is on face-book, WhatsApp, instagram and other applications that the phone offers. He communicates with me easily on these platforms, send message to me without necessarily coming to my office to report any issue. What we have done also is to create a whatsApp group for all the artisans after onboarding them, where information are shared.
Talking about technology also, how do you handle network and server failures including phones on low battery as a result of inconsistent power failure in the country? These, to me can easily demoralize either the artisan or the customer when a service is critically needed.
Nigeria as we know is still a developing country technology wise, but I can boldly say that we have exceeded all the expectations in terms of technology challenges. The app was developed in Canada. We are very confident that it cannot fail. The network services are now competitive among the providers. As a result this, users have option to switch to a provider that is consistent. It will not be difficult for us because we created an application that is as easy as opening an email. Our app is very easy to use. You can download it from Google store for android users. When you type hustlesquare, the site will appear and lead you to other ways of getting information about us and how to register and become a member of the group for both the artisans and customers.
Do you have any insurance plan to cater for injury at work?
Naturally, we are not employers of labour and do not include any insurance plan to cater for any artisan at work. What we did is to create a platform where the customer and artisan can relate and agree on common terms excluding our absolute involvement or interference. However, we train and sensitize the artisans very well before onboarding them on our platform so that safety consciousness should be their watchword all time. We also give them safety tips periodically.
Secondly, we do not determine job costing nor prizing for the artisan, neither do we have a prize list chart as in the case of other platforms. We only connect the two parties while they determine and agree on prize before job commences. Our only concern is that the artisan has to register and fill the job completion form in the app for our record purposes. And also, we sensitize the artisans of customer ethics so that they should be reasonable and sincere in dealing with customers. Moreover, a customer will always review artisan’s chart, agree on our terms and conditions on the app before engaging him.